Defender Leaders Persuade

Public defender and assigned counsel leaders can influence criminal justice policies. We increase our public policy effectiveness when we partner with creative coalitions,  unusual supporters of a particular bill or issue. And this work with these creative coalitions or unusual supporters of a common sense bill or issue  creates a context that can help defender programs obtain more resources to address our workloads. That’s the thinking of more and more defender leaders as shaped by the teaching of national thinkers Mark Moore, Peter Loge and others. There is wisdom in thinking strategically. As Robert Caro, a biographer of Lyndon Johnson, said, “The nature of political genius is to find a way when no way appears obvious.”

Working with others to help clients is something we do naturally but usually with those that share our philosophy and way of thinking. Working for clients with those that think differently on many or most issues is too often not something we do. But things are changing. Various defender leaders across the nation are working with unusual supporters on a specific piece of legislation, like felony expungement, or on particular issues from Fourth Amendment  to overcriminalization and decriminalization. As these situational supporters learn more who we are, what we do and our value, they provide improved context for our funding requests.

Unusual allies

Peter Loge in an article Building Coalitions to Define and Win Issue Campaigns said, “In a traditional coalition of allies, the answer is mostly found at your office parties. In building third way coalitions, the answer is generally found among those who you would never, ever invite to your office parties. Instead of rounding up the usuals, round up the un-unusual suspects.”

Benefits of political work on public policy issues Mark Moore urges defender leaders to see themselves as political leaders and in that political role advocate a criminal justice public policy agenda that will aid their funding advocacy, “One way to think about this kind of advocacy is that it is directed at increasing the power and authority of public defense systems instead of increasing their funding. Note also that part of this work will be the same kind of political work that is necessary to maintain a flow of appropriations: namely, work with legislators and committees that do the legislative work.” Mark H. Moore, ALTERNATIVE STRATEGIES FOR PUBLIC DEFENDERS AND ASSIGNED COUNSEL (April 2001).

KY efforts to work with others Kentucky defender leaders have been having conversations with various groups to enlist unusual supporters to work on public policy initiatives that will reduce the cost of corrections. Adoption of these measures would provide savings that can be used for defender funding needs. The KY defender public policy proposals,  10 ways to reduce waste in Kentucky's criminal justice system are found at:  Advocate March 2014 Part 2 . The KY Chamber of Commerce has endorsed a number of these proposals out of their interest in reducing the government costs for Corrections. The July 2014 KY Chamber of Commerce’s The Leaky Bucket: Where We Stand Five Years later includes a section calling for additional criminal justice reform that would reduce KY correctional costs and states:


“Continue full implementation of 2011 sentencing-reform legislation to control the growth in corrections costs and carefully consider legislative efforts to increase penalties that will result in higher corrections cost. Continue this positive trend in more appropriate use of expensive corrections resources with full implementation of 2014 juvenile justice legislation. The General Assembly should also continue reviewing the Kentucky Penal Code with the goal of creating more alternatives to incarceration for low-level, non-violent crimes and focus on jail time for more serious offenses. Potential areas for review recently identified by the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy include:• Alternative sentencing for flagrant non-support instead of imprisonment for a felony• Modification of the persistent felony offender statute• Increasing the dollar amount for the felony theft limit• Presuming parole for eligible low-risk offenders• Adoption of a “clear and convincing” standard for pretrial release• Creation of a “gross misdemeanor” classification for low-level felonies.”

DPA-NAPD Leadership 

Workload Institute At the National Association for Public Defense and the KY Department of Public Advocacy Public Defense Workload and Leadership Institute in Lexington, KY, I just listened to Ohio public defender Tim Young, NAPD Chair, and Knoxville public defender Mark Stephens, NAPD Vice-Chair,  present The keys to developing a coherent, comprehensive strategy. They talked about strategies to  educate and enlist allies, identifying resistance, implementing and adjusting a plan to advance public defender interests. Their insights are profound and helps me to set my sights higher on working with unusual allies.